NJ Republicans need to rethink the way they campaign

By “The Happy Warrior”

Not on a single issue, or in one direction or twain,
But conclusively, comprehensively, and several times and again,
Were all our most holy illusions knocked higher than Gilderoy’s kite.
We have had a jolly good lesson, and it serves us jolly well right!

(The Lesson, Rudyard Kipling)

Fellow Republicans:  Before jumping into the 2019 legislative cycle… doing the exact same things we’ve been doing and losing for the past decade – STOP!

We have just been crushed the worst we’ve been crushed in a century.  But it wasn’t unique. We’ve been getting our asses kicked now for a decade.  Not even a popular Governor prevented the usual and customary ass-whooping. We keep losing and the life blood of the party is draining away.

It doesn’t have to be.  It’s not this way in other states.  So STOP and THINK.

Question our old standbys, our comfort zones, that instinctive knee-jerk prescription that hasn’t won in a decade or more.

Because politics isn’t actual warfare, the participants of these slaughters get to live and repeat the performance.  It’s as if General Custer somehow survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn to lead a gallant new troop of cavalry. One would hope that he would think about avoiding the actions that lead to everyone being killed the first time… that he just wouldn’t take command because “he’s done it before” and – having received command – he wouldn’t simply proceed “the way it has always been done before.”

There is certainly no shame in losing.  The founding military and political leader of our nation, George Washington, suffered a string of defeats before and after the Battles of Trenton  and Princeton, before winning the conclusive Battle of Yorktown. The shame comes from not putting a defeat to good use by learning from it. To not ponder a loss and instead stubbornly go back to the exact same way as before.

Then let us develop this marvellous asset which we alone command,
And which, it may subsequently transpire, will be worth as much as the Rand.
Let us approach this pivotal fact in a humble yet hopeful mood—
We have had no end of a lesson, it will do us no end of good!


The Democrats have developed a new way of conducting and winning political campaigns.  It is a loose, fluid, decentralized style of campaigning – and it never ends. The Democrats’ campaign is an endless campaign.

The Democrats have mastered the marshalling of superior resources through the procurement of contracts, the selection of vendors, and the creation of entities – for-profits, non-profits, political action committees, leadership PACS, party organizations, superPACS, and campaign committees – by which fundraised money flows around donor limits and every other rule.  Added to this is their ability to field an army of activists using established issues groups as well as the more generalized “anti” groups born after the election of Donald Trump.

The Democrat command and control structure is instructive – in that it requires only a broad agreement on targets and goals to effectively get the job done.  The Democrats do not micro-manage.  They point everyone in the right direction and then allow the folks on the ground to get the job done.

The Democrats’ method of campaigning is activist-based.  Republicans, on the other hand, insist on campaigns that are highly centralized, tethered, and top-down – echo-chamber campaigns that reinforce the established certainties.  


Both major parties are really each three separate parties all occupying the same space and seeking to speak for the same “brand”.  

(1) There is the broad “party” defined by formal “membership” (voter registration, etc.), self-identification, or electoral support.  These people have some idea of what the party brand means and they like candidates to adhere to it. They like to get what they think they are voting for.

(2) Next is the activist base.  These people are motivated by a particular issue or set of issues (or by a candidate who serves as the vessel for such).  Some organize themselves to great effectiveness. Many are organized permanently and have established themselves as genuine powers.  Others can be motivated in the right season, on a case by case basis. The most successful are able to create enough activity to earn a living from their activism (essentially, they are paid for their leadership).

(3) Finally we have the “professional” party – the regulars.  Broadly speaking, they are paid or make money from politics, whether as attorneys, vendors, lobbyists, elected officials, appointed officials, patronage employees, political consultants, legislative staff, and such.  They are transactional and make money through or directly from politics – that is the big difference between them and the broader party.

Of necessity, the concerns of each of these three groups can be very different.  On the whole, the first two want candidates who will represent their points of view (although, depending on the issue, some in the second might find themselves outside the mainstream of the first).  The concerns of the last can be quite complex depending on relationships (personal, professional, and financial), the political considerations of maintaining power, and monetary contracts or understandings.  Suffice to say that the maintenance of power for its own sake is a primary concern, so they see the world very differently than the almost black or white delineations of the greater party.

All three entities are very important.  Whether Democrat or Republican, a party needs its broad membership, its activist base, and its professional party regulars.  But it needs them working together… not hating each other.

In the election just completed, the Democrats successfully engaged and involved the second group and we saw literally thousands of people from the first group – average voters – flood into the second to become activists.  In contrast, the Republicans maintained rigid, centralized control… and they were nearly wiped out.


In political campaigns, as in warfare, command and control is all about the time it takes to observe a threat or opportunity, orientate your forces to bear on it, decide what to do, and then do it.  In the aftermath of America’s failure in Vietnam, when the President of the United States was personally selecting which bridges to bomb, military theorists grappled with various ways to improve command and control.  After 241 military personnel, mainly United States Marines, were killed by a truck bomb driven into their barracks in Beirut, the need for a “quick action” method of command and control became an imperative. In Beirut, the forces on the ground had to get permission from the brass in Washington in order to react decisively.  Unfortunately, the terrorists didn’t wait.

An Air Force Colonel by the name of John Boyd studied warfare through the critical lens of time.  For Colonel Boyd, it was all about time… reaction time… the ability to get inside your opponent’s decision-making loop.  

Colonel Boyd came up with the concept of OODA loops or time cycles while studying air combat and then applied it more generally to warfare and to other forms of human conflict.  Boyd wrote that the key strategic advantage in any conflict was the ability to Observe a threat or opportunity, Orientate oneself to it, Decide what to do, and then Act… an OODA loop.  If you could complete your OODA loop quicker than your opponent could, you would probably win.

In New Jersey, the Democrats operate on a pretty brisk OODA time cycle.  The Republicans move like glue and are utterly disconnected from the ground.  The Democrats understand who their NCO’s are and largely trust them. This gives the Democrats the ability to communicate what needs to be done, with the view that if they point the field NCO’s in the right direction, they can be trusted to get the job done.

The Democrats would understand Marine Colonel Chesty Puller’s comments to his NCO’s at the start of WWII… it would make no sense to a regular Republican in New Jersey.  We have no NCO’s. (We need them… desperately!)

The reasons for this are historical.  Beginning with the nascent post-war (WWII) ascendancy of the conservative movement and the candidacy of Barry Goldwater, the New Jersey GOP establishment recoiled against the modern conservativism of Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan.  These sentiments were rooted in the class-based prejudices and religious bigotry of a Republican Party that had been crushed by FDR and the New Deal. Of a party that still expected the gratitude of African-Americans and was shocked when it was withheld.  

With the election of Ronald Reagan as President and the mainstreaming of his platform in 1980, New Jersey’s regular Republicans – the party’s “professionals” pursued a course at an odd variance with that of the national party.  The wider Republican party in New Jersey – and its activist base – kept step with the national Republican Party. The professionals became more and more a strange “hothouse” variety – a hybrid.

The GOP regulars tried to win “our way” but the losing only grew worse and worse, the excuses bolder and brazen.  Governor Chris Christie had the good sense to enlist the activist base, running as an economic and social conservative – a supporter of traditional values, Pro-Life, and Pro-Second Amendment – unfortunately, GOP legislative candidates too often have not.  In the end, with the loss of county and local governments, then the state government, many of the professionals found accommodation with the Democrats – some even becoming Democrats.  

Without jobs for the boys, NCO’s recruited from the professional regulars dried up.  Without an appeal to activist issues or at least the RNC platform… there was no compelling way to replace them.  People fight for money or they fight for cause. Both have been taken away.

Now, with the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the membership of the Republican Party, as well as its activist base, are now totally disjoint from the professional regulars of the NJGOP.  If most average Republicans knew who their “leaders” represented economically, they would find it revolting. Many would never vote again.

But there is hope.  The Democrats under Governor Phil Murphy are demonstrably whacky enough to recruit the support of the activist base as well as the wider party… to enlist and to activate many, many who have not been active before.

Party professionals can earn lucrative livings by wielding the collective power of the votes of many people.  These people willingly turn the power of their vote over to them because they believe the word “Republican” stands for certain things.  All they ask in return for turning their power over to a GOP “leader” is that they not be lied to in such an extreme way that they are made to feel like fools.  And the regular professionals make the wider party feel like fools… at their own peril.

In summary:  Stand for something.  Open the doors to the activist base and the wider party.  Tighten that OODA loop by loosening your grip. Recruit NCO’s, train them, point them in the right direction, and allow them to do their work.

It was our fault, and our very great fault—and now we must turn it to use.
We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.
So the more we work and the less we talk the better results we shall get—
We have had an Imperial lesson; it may make us an Empire yet!